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The French Police Are Protecting Journalists in the Wake of the 'Charlie Hebdo' Attack

Following Wednesday's attack, several Parisian and European editors are now under surveillance.

by Glenn Cloarec
Jan 9 2015, 3:15pm

French police officers had been periodically stationed outside Charlie Hebdo's offices ever since 2006, when the newspaper reprinted 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that had originally appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. Speaking after the attack on the office on Wednesday, in which 12 people lost their lives, the magazine's lawyer Richard Malka told French radio station RTL, "[Hebdo] had been living under threats for eight years; there was protection, but there's nothing you can do against barbarians who show up with Kalashnikovs."

The magazine's editor, Charb, was assigned his own personal police protection in November 2011, after their offices were firebombed. Luz, an illustrator, and Riss, Charlie Hebdo's managing editor, were also assigned personal protection, but at the time of Wednesday's attack only Charb had his own private guard. Those two officers were unable to save his life. Franck Brinsolaro, one of the officers in charge of Charb's protection, was also killed in the shooting. As well as providing personal protection to the editor, police officers regularly patrolled the offices' immediate neighborhood. Three patrols had already taken place just prior to the attack. According to Le Monde, there was no "static" guard on that day, only dynamic roving patrols.

Speaking to Le Monde, Laurent Nunez, from the office of Paris' chief of police, explained that the "static" guard was reinstated every time "a somewhat sensitive issue" hit the newsstands. "The threat seemed to have gone down," said Nunez—a sentiment shared by Hebdo's staff, including editor-in-chief Gérard Biard, who noted that "the threats were perceived to be milder in recent times."

Shortly after the attack, officials boosted security at the offices of several other French newspapers, fearful that other assailants might strike. Sophie de Ravinel, a journalist with French daily Le Figaro, reported the presence of "two armed police officers in bulletproof vests, searching through bags" outside the paper's headquarters in Paris. Speaking to VICE, police union spokesman Christophe Crépin explained, "Until the order is lifted, every French news outlet will be guarded 24/7 by heavily armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests." Given the immediate triggering of Vigipirate, France's national security alert system, the increased surveillance will largely "depend on the resources" of nearby police stations. "Even though the attack targeted a publication based in Paris, the regional dailies will be afforded protection," said Crépin.

The French interior minister did not respond to VICE's request for an interview.

Security was also stepped up at the offices of international publications, including those of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish broadsheet that first published the caricatures of Muhammad in 2006. In 2010, Kurt Westergaard, who penned some of Jyllands-Posten's most controversial cartoons, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in his home. In an internal memo, the newspaper's directors warned their employees that "the level of surveillance and security in and around our Copenhagen and Viby offices has been stepped up." (The newspaper's spokeswoman declined to verify this memo.) According to Hélène Kohl, a freelance journalist based in Germany, newspapers in Berlin have also tightened their security, even as they have republished some of Charlie Hebdo's incendiary cartoons:


French writer Michel Houellebecq—whose latest novel, Submission, about a future, Muslim-led France, hit the shelves this week—is also under increased protection since the attack. On Wednesday, Houellebecq's publishing house, Flammarion, evacuated its offices in the Paris neighborhood of Odéon. Contacted by French weekly L'Obs, a Flammarion spokesperson explained that the decision had been taken "in conjunction with the police" as a precaution. The controversial writer was featured on the cover of Charlie Hebdo's latest issue, predicting: "In 2015, I'll lose my teeth... In 2022, I'll observe Ramadan." In another cartoon inside the paper, he is pictured saying, "In 2036, [the Islamic State] will come to Europe."

According to Jean-Pierre Diot, vice president of the French Federation of Close Protection, former member of France's special protection services and author of the book From Pope Jean-Paul II to Nicolas Sarkozy, 15 years in the Association of Personal Protection Services, "More and more public figures and journalists are living under police protection because of the increased political tension and terrorist threat."

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